27 March 2010

Making yourself the story

Peter van Onselen has failed to realise what senior journalists know: that when you take sides you make yourself the story, and the more you make yourself the story the harder it is to report on other stories. As with most PvO articles, you have to do the analysis yourself as the commentary provided isn't much chop and doesn't match the morsels of fact within it.

The main story here is how frightened the Liberals are of Malcolm Turnbull. They're trying everything, and poor Pete is going along because Turnbull won't follow the stereotypes.

How did a former Liberal Party leader who, just more than a month ago, crossed the floor on the emissions trading scheme to sit all alone with the Labor Party imagine he could use the media to put pressure on Abbott to promote him to the front bench?

Remember way back when Turnbull was leader and Abbott was Shadow Minister for Families Families and Families? Remember how Abbott would run interference on Coalition policy development with his half-witted outbursts on anything that took his fancy? John Howard did much the same thing to Liberal leaders who weren't John Howard, and Abbott did the same - and has been vindicated. What's happening here - and what van Onselen has failed to realise - is that Abbott has great trouble complying with one of the key laws of politics, the What's Sauce For The Goose Is Sauce For The Gander Act.

Turnbull himself must have been aware that his reputation as a political strategist had taken yet another battering and that the door on his political future had slammed shut once more.

No, Turnbull has looked like a team player and Abbott has looked petty and paranoid.

The member for Wentworth may now decide that he has no future in politics and swiftly resign. If that happens, it would indicate a shift in thinking.

Newspaper editors like to run columns written by former politicians or former party leaders ... However, since Turnbull started regularly writing for The Sydney Morning Herald he could hardly have been more on message for the Liberal Party's cause.

Firstly, never mind what newspaper editors like or don't like. Second, the fact that Turnbull is on message indicates that he does not regard his political career as dead as you might like it, and you should have picked up on that. Third, the fact that he isn't writing for a News Ltd paper seems to really stick in your craw.

... when Turnbull couldn't find something to attack Rudd about, he would steer clear of politics and discuss issues in his electorate.

Or: leaving others (esp. shadow ministers) to plug the daily talking points, Turnbull reinforced his career by talking about an area in which many SMH readers live, and/or find interesting. If he was just going to plug today's talking points, why would the SMH publish him?

Of course Abbott's rebuke of Turnbull's ambitions may change that, making his copy more interesting if he reverts to the wrecking ball approach in his columns.

Remember how John Howard contradicted Hewson on interest rates in the final week of the '93 campaign? The fact that this is the sort of thing Abbott would do, and clearly isn't the sort of thing Turnbull does, renders half this article as bullshit: any paragraph with "may" in it can safely be deleted, even (or especially) if it starts with "of course".

Abbott's performance will be a testing ground for the sort of policies the Liberal Party embraces into the future. Joe Hockey stands as a philosophical alternative to Abbott in the partyroom. If Turnbull remains in politics, with a great deal of repair work to be sure, he could still emerge one day as a leader.

All political parties, in government or not, have differences of opinion within them. Would you consider Turnbull's SMH articles part of the "repair work"?

Abbott and Hockey may in time become their generation's John Howard and Andrew Peacock, jockeying for control of the heart and soul of the party.

See, that's just silly. It shows how frayed your imagery is, how unsustainable your metaphors are, PvO.

Nevertheless, such labels do help us understand the broad challenges the Liberal Party faces.

No, PvO, they don't. They help you set up a whole lot of "maybes" which look increasingly silly.

But even within the Right there are disagreements about the role of the market and the role of the big arm of government.

Such disagreements were never more obvious than when Abbott began promoting his parental leave scheme, opposed by senator Nick Minchin and perhaps even a catalyst for his early departure (in addition to family reasons).

So why describe people like Turnbull as "malign", when it is the Liberal right who are a rabble intent on either smothering us in bureaucracy or abandoning people to a market that passes them by in pursuit of those who are either/both well-heeled and well-indebted?

There is a supreme irony about a man who says he is resigning to care for his child, while denying childcare support to others.

My sympathies are squarely with those who don't try and shape Australian society to some predefined agenda, which is probably why I find PvO's piece so risible. He's trying to hammer the square peg of Turnbull into the round hole of political cliché, and like all lazy journalists he curses the object of his ire for not making his job even easier than it is already. PvO was appointed for his inside knowledge of the Liberal Party, and he is neither applying that knowledge or his analysis skills at all well.


  1. HillbillySkeleton28/3/10 10:52 am

    Yes, the Liberal Party can't be seen to have any of that touchy-feely, bipartisan compromise stuff that Malcolm Turnbull brought to leadership of the Coalition, around such issues as a policy to deal with Climate Change. Much better, in Abbott's eyes, and in the Liberal Party's cipher's eyes(PvO), to relentlessly oppose and seek to destroy all opponents, both within the Coalition and in the 'fight' against the government being waged by the punch-drunk pugilist.
    Why, if TA could set up a photo op of himself literally 'going for the jugular' of one or other of his opponents, no doubt he would. That's just the sorta guy he is. Raarrgghh!

  2. David Irving (no relation)28/3/10 1:11 pm

    You've nailed PvO, Andrew. I've thought he was an idiot with no political perception since about 15 seconds after I first heard of him.

  3. Hillbilly, the same could be said of Keating - but the difference is that Keating did his homework. Mike Carlton was right about Abbott's narcissm, and it will be interesting to see how far Labor will push this without puncturing public-health initiatives on exercise etc.

    Thanks David. PvO's reputation is built upon his biography of Howard, which shows both his strengths (access to facts and ability to record them as a narrative) and his weaknesses (inability to judge people and their actions against a set of principles, or to speculate reasonably about what might have been). I think he's there to make up for Christian Kerr, who was better on the analysis even if the press secs could see him coming.

  4. PvO really fancies himself as a king-maker, and there in lies his downfall. Mind you, news ltd is aiding and abetting all manner of moronic commentary at the moment as they re-position to have the co alition back in power.

    Another very salient observation by you Andrew.

  5. PvO is just out of his depth, and I agree that News Ltd does have the feel of either a sheltered workshop (The Oz) or a cliché mill (the tabloids). The fact that Rudd gave a quarter of a billion dollar break to everyone but News shows the folly of treating this government like some sort of filler between Coalition governments.

  6. Hi Andrew

    Thankyou Andrew for another brilliant piece.

    Would you be able to include


    on your blog roll.,

    I have tried to leave a comment before but have found it difficult, I must be doing something wrong.

  7. Done.

    If you're Grog, then the comment you left was uncritical praise: which I appreciated but didn't feel the need to post. Now you can link back here and everyone's happy.